Larry and I met on a double date. I was dating the daughter; he was dating the mother. He was smart and didn’t see the mother after that. [laughs] But I remember thinking: Whatever happens on this date, I like this guy. Later he tells me he’s going to do some ritual on the beach. Everyone had their thing. You helped on their thing, they’d be there for yours.
As a former hometown boy, Flash has pull in Gerlach. When the federal government threatened to oust Burning Man from land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management in 1997, Flash turned to good ol’ Mafia politics: He created a chamber of commerce in Gerlach, the town closest to Black Rock City, named himself president and held “conversations” in the press with Harvey about how the town’s 180 residents love Burning Man. He later appointed himself mayor and ran two saloons until a disgruntled woman shot him in the leg and ran him out of town.
He’s a Burning Man icon, a 61-year-old man whose fingerprints have appeared on nearly all of the famous art creations and explosions in the 20 years since Burning Man began in San Francisco. His escapades are legendary, and though his given name is Michael Hopkins, everyone knows him as Flash.
One year Flash nearly crashed a glowing motorized whale into a life-size Spanish galleon. Another time he lit up the night sky with an alcohol-burning 440 Chevy engine on pillars.
his 100-acre ranch in Placerville
Tuesday night, Flash donned an Arab sheikh outfit and held court long into the night from the bow of La Contessa, the same ship he nearly wrecked on the Playa. The wooden vessel, with telephone pole masts, full sail rigging and crows nests, was built atop a yellow school bus.
His dinners are delivered nightly by his “Mama,” 77-year-old Lola Sweet of Gerlach, who “adopted” Flash when he lived in town. She does it to make sure Flash doesn’t forget to eat. She also helps organize the annual Gerlach Senior Center field trip to Burning Man, and the first stop on the bus tour is always Flash’s tent.
he reminisced about the time he came to Burning Man with 5,000 lime popsicles and threw them at people from a milk truck.
“Or how about the time McDonalds sent you a cease-and-desist order the year you made McSatan’s?” someone else on deck called out.
“We were all raised to believe in freedom,” he said. “Well, where is it? It’s not in your car payment. It’s not in the cubicle you sit in. The desert brought it. That vastness creates freedom when you see that absolute blankness. It’s a beautiful place.”
Flash builds installation art all over the globe. He worked on Defenestration, a sculpture of furniture tumbling from the window of a condemned building in San Francisco. His work also has appeared in Menlo Park and as a towering stack of suitcases in the terminal at Sacramento International Airport.
This year Harvey commissioned Flash and art car inventor Tom Kennedy to create the World’s Largest Laughing Sal, the iconic circus fat lady once found at Play Land in San Francisco.
Sal towers over the entrance to the base of the 40-foot tall Burning Man that will go up in flames on Saturday. Flash and his friends also built the funhouse maze inside the base of the man.
“C’mere, c’mere, lookit this!” said Flash, showing off a fun house attraction, a window box with a spider inside. “Do you know that arachnids are evolutionarily perfect?” he said. “They’ve figured out what they need to be, they have stopped evolving, there are no new species being formed. Now, want to see how far humans have progressed?” he asked.